Officials' Absences Raise Questions

Times Staff Writer

A delegation of Los Angeles officials is in Israel to promote tourism, exchange economic development ideas and determine whether that country's security techniques can help Southern California guard against terrorism.

City Council President Alex Padilla, Councilman Jack Weiss, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and two other city officials are on the 10-day trip, which is being sponsored and paid for by the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.

Weiss said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv on Tuesday that Israeli officials' security briefings and demonstrations have already convinced him that changes are needed in Los Angeles.

"I'm certainly going to revisit the issue of how we secure our airports," Weiss said. "There is no question that they have an expertise and approach that I fear we are going to have to emulate sooner rather than later."

Weiss said, for example, that Israel does a better job of training and using bomb-sniffing dogs than Los Angeles does.

With City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski also out of the country this week on a vacation to Cuba, some residents questioned whether city business is being given adequate attention.

Although none of the foreign trips is being taken at taxpayer expense, the absences come at a time when the city is facing a budget crisis and labor unrest, including a strike by transit mechanics.

"I understand why it's important to boost tourism for Israel. That's good," said Laura Lake, president of the group Friends of Westwood, and an opponent of Weiss in the last election. "But the city has a lot of pressing issues. It just seems like it would be better if they went one at a time. What does it mean for pressing business in Los Angeles to have them all gone at once?"

The trips mean three key officials will not be present today for a council vote on whether to put a multimillion-dollar tax measure for more police on the March ballot.

Miscikowski heads the council's Public Safety Committee, Weiss is a member of the panel and Padilla joined others in bringing a motion to study the possible tax increase. The council may delay putting the measure on the ballot because some council members have voiced concern about the potential cost of a special election.

Bill Mabie, a spokesman for Padilla, defended the Israel trip, which ends Sunday. "We have had security issues here in Los Angeles, whether it be airport-related or more general," Mabie said. "He is meeting with people in Israel who deal with those issues every day."

The Jewish Federation is picking up the trip's cost of $3,800 per person to give local officials a better understanding of the issues that are important to the Los Angeles Jewish community, said Tzivia Schwartz Getzug, a spokeswoman for the group.

"Traveling to Israel will give them insight into the importance of the relationship between Israel and the United States, and an understanding of the challenges [Israel] faces," Getzug said. "It will give our elected officials a chance to learn from Israeli experts in the area of homeland security, while sharing their expertise with Israeli officials in the area of community redevelopment projects."

Miscikowski's trip to Cuba, which ends Friday, is strictly a vacation, said spokeswoman Lisa Gritzner.

Meanwhile, City Hall will be short on elected officials Monday when Mayor James K. Hahn leads a delegation of city politicians to Sacramento for the inauguration of Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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